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This paper presents a novel dataset and data structure to facilitate study of resource use in building design and construction. The rapid urbanization of our world is a resource intensive process that has resulted in the irreversible, unsustainable transfer of material from nature into our anthropogenic stock1. The 20th century saw a rapid increase in material stocks accumulated in buildings and infrastructure2, a trend projected to accelerate through the 21st century. Overall material flows (i.e. resource use and waste) must be reduced by a factor of four to ten to achieve sustainable development3. To improve material efficiency, we need to better understand how and for what purposes material accumulates in our built environment. A key challenge to better understanding the resource cycle in the construction, maintenance and demolition of buildings is the paucity of data publicly available on building materials. While in theory detailed information is available for each constructed building in the form of design drawings, quantity takeoffs and construction records; recording material use is generally not a priority in an industry pressed by the competing challenges of cost and speed. Further, there has historically been little overlap between industrial ecology and engineering project management research leaving a disconnect between those with construction records and expertise, and those most interested in material stocks and flows. This research draws on construction management-based data organization and material takeoff methods to present a novel dataset and data structure for building material use research. This work presents a novel level of data disaggregation facilitating the study of where in buildings and for what purposes materials are used.
This study builds on the earlier building material intensity (MI) databases by others4,5,6,7,8,9. MI databases have been developed for determining material quantities and embodied carbon dioxide of different building types4, establishing country-wide databases for residential and urban buildings5,8,9, creating an open database by aggregating material intensity data from the literature6, estimating building in use material stocks and estimating the future demand for construction materials and availability of waste materials7,10. While the pace of new urban construction material flow analysis (MFA) has been accelerating, there remains a lack of standardization and a lack of classification of materials based on their specific use across the available datasets; nearly all available data counts materials aggregated over the whole building. Further, in-house datasets are increasingly being developed (e.g. EC3 tool11, Athena Impact Calculator12, Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) software13); but publicly available data, broadly available to the research community, remain rare.
This study extends the earlier MFA database research to include more buildings and more geographies in time, increase the level of detail on where in the building (e.g. above or below ground) and for what purpose (e.g. slab vs. column) construction materials are being used. Much of the existing building MFA research and databases have focused on understanding existing material stocks and the potential for building material reuse and recycling from that stock. This work focuses on the ability to investigate in more depth how building form and design decisions influence material consumption and as such focuses on new(er) buildings that reflect current construction practices. The database also adds a mass of low/similar uncertainty data as all the included building materials were quantified by the same team, using the same methods and from late-stage design or for construction drawings. To facilitate comparison and collation with existing databases, a translation script is included in the data repository14,15 that converts the data herein to the more aggregated structure proposed by Heeren and Fishman (2019)6.
This study builds on past research in industrial ecology and MFA which assesses the changes in flows and stocks of materials within a system16. Built environment MFA have been used to inform research on circular economy, urban mining, design for material efficiency and understanding historical material use in cities17,18,19. Detailed material identification has also been done for individual buildings for the purpose of life cycle assessments20,21. To facilitate meaningful changes in the way buildings are designed, built, demolished and reused; the quantities or percentage of materials that go into specific building elements (e.g., substructure) are needed5,22,23. However, building materials have not been disaggregated into different building elements generally in past studies. To address this gap, we adapted an ontology based on Uniformat24 and MasterFormat25, two widely used construction classification systems in North America, to facilitate a highly disaggregate assessment of material use.